My Commonplace Book: January 2020

A selection of words and pictures to represent January’s reading:

commonplace book
a book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.


“It is a good phrase that,” said Poirot. “The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)


Any separation, however brief, made them anxious. It was to tempt fate; they might never get together again. Entropy is the natural law of the universe, everything tends towards disorder, to break down, to disperse. People get lost: look how many vanished during the Retreat; feelings fade, and forgetfulness slips into lives like mist. It takes heroic willpower just to keep everything in place. Those are a refugee’s forebodings, said Roser. No, they’re the forebodings of someone in love, Victor corrected her.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (2020)


Engraving of the Foundling Hospital, London, 1753.

These feminine vessels we inhabited: why did nobody expect them to contain unfeminine feelings? Why could we, too, not be furious and scornful and entirely altered by grief? Why must we accept the cards we had been dealt?

The Foundling by Stacey Halls (2020)


‘Why don’t you come, Reggie? Come for a visit. You might even think about getting a job here.’ New Zealand seemed to Reggie to be awfully far away. ‘Well, not when you’re actually here,’ Dr Hunter wrote. ‘Then it’s not far away at all. Then it’s just where you are. You’re here.’

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (2019)


‘And, of course, it’s simply chance that takes one in the first place into one manner of life rather than another. And one looks back, and imagines one might have chosen better – whereas, really and truly, choice didn’t enter into the matter. What do you think?’

Appleby thought only that the hour was too advanced to enter upon a discussion of the mildly perplexing problem of necessity and free will.

The Long Farewell by Michael Innes (1958)


The south-eastern side of Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

As the sky turned gold and dense black shadows began to dissolve the light within the pavilions, she gasped in awe at the dazzling brilliance of the Shwedagon illuminated by the dying sun. With light refracting through coloured glass the whole thing glittered and sparkled: a multi-jewelled marvel like no other Belle had ever seen.

The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies (2019)


She glanced around but there was no escape and it was, she supposed, a valid question. Eventually she said just one word: ‘Security’.

Malcolm sighed.

‘Security? You disappoint me. Is that all you seek?’

‘If, like me, you had known its lack, Sire, you might value it more highly.’

Blood Queen by Joanna Courtney (2018)


‘We can only recognize saints when the plainest evidence shows them to be saintly. If you think her a saint, she is a saint to you. What more do you ask? That is what we call the reality of the soul; you are foolish to demand the agreement of the world as well.’

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (1970)


The tower at Dreamland, Coney Island, 1907.

On my right side, a brace of clarinets and trombones pounded music; in front of me, a square tower with a triangle top soared incredibly high, as high as one of the skyscrapers of Manhattan. More immediately I faced a mountain of water, with people riding down in little wooden cars that reached the bottom with an enormous splash. No matter which way I twisted and turned, I couldn’t see the natural water, the beach, or Surf Avenue. I was deep into Dreamland, away from the ocean and the town.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau (2020)


Yet what a strange allegory it was, the river of time. If he was standing here in the now, then to the left, downriver, the past was disappearing away into the night. Time past could never be changed: what was done was done. If only the past did not stay fixed like dead flies in amber. If only he could live his life again.

The Almanack by Martine Bailey (2019)


He’d always had a quickening of the heart when he crossed into Arizona and beheld the cactus country. This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaro standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes (1963)


Then the writer paused, the scene recollected in his mind’s eye. ‘These three brothers,’ he continued, a hint of regret in his appraising tone, ‘possessed such surpassing talent that their triple bond could only have been broken with the utmost difficulty’ – ‘if,’ that was, ‘they had been able to avoid conflict.’ It was a big ‘if’.

The Brothers York by Thomas Penn (2019)


Favourite books read in January:

The Expendable Man, The Foundling and Dreamland

New authors read in January:

Stacey Halls, Robertson Davies, Dorothy B. Hughes, Martine Bailey

Countries visited in my January reading:

England, Scotland, Canada, USA, Yugoslavia (as it was then), Spain, Chile, Burma (Myanmar)


Have you read any of these books? Which books did you enjoy reading in January?

8 thoughts on “My Commonplace Book: January 2020

  1. FictionFan says:

    A very eclectic bunch of books this month! I love that picture of the Shwedagon Pagoda – what an amazing looking building! I’m most tempted by the quote from Dorothy B Hughes, though I’m surprisingly drawn to that quote from Allende too…

  2. jessicabookworm says:

    Helen, I love Murder on the Orient Express, such a classic murder mystery set on the most glamourous train, love it! In January, my favourite read was my new cookbook, Quick Cooking by Mary Berry, which is chock full of recipes I am excited to try. Happy reading in February! 🙂

  3. Lory says:

    You read your first Robertson Davies? Hooray! I do hope you liked it.

    I read Big Sky this month too, for a book club I was invited to join. I have read most of Kate Atkinson’s books, but I’m getting tired of her cynicism … I do not agree with her moral world view. However, I don’t particularly want to argue with people who do. So it was rather hard to have a discussion about the book.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I enjoyed the Robertson Davies! I had planned to read it last year for your reading week but it wasn’t the right time for me. I will be reading the other two books in the trilogy at some point.

      I usually love Kate Atkinson’s books, but the Jackson Brodie ones aren’t my favourites. I’m hoping to read Transcription soon.

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